April 5, 2013

What is it Like to Live in Another Country?

For those of us who have lived outside our native country, this basic question and its answers are taken for granted. We want to learn more about the culture, lifestyle, and other factors of the places we will move to or live in. For us global nomads, we sometimes forget that there are people who have never lived away from home, even within their own state or country.

Those who have not lived outside their native countries may classify those who have moved out as anything between mysterious and deserters. They may have assumptions about life in another country. In any country, there will be some general aspects that may be different. These things may affect the lifestyle and make it imperative that adjustments will have to be made to bring back some kind of ‘normalcy’ to life. Here are a few things that may be different in another country.

Holidays Are NOT the Same
Growing up and living in one place for a long time means that one will get used to the festivities and special occasions celebrated by those in the community. We may think that ‘everyone celebrates this holiday’ but this is not true. We may intellectually understand this, of course. As we get busy with our school or work schedules, and realize that we do not get time away due to that occasion, we quickly notice that ’this holiday is not important to the people here.’ We also feel that the ‘holiday feeling’ is not in the air. People are not talking about it or preparing for it. Sometimes, even the things we relied on back home to decorate our home, buy as gifts, or eat during the celebratory meal, are not available. We have to make do with the local ways. We may not find replacements. Sometimes we can celebrate the holiday on the given day; sometimes we wait until the weekend when we aren’t working. We may invite others from our country to our home to create the feeling as they will understand the importance of the holiday more than the locals. But, of course, we are always happy to invite locals to teach them about our culture and share it with others.

Weather is NOT the Same
We can experience differences in the climate even when we move within the same country. When we base the calendar on the climate, and the climate doesn’t change, we can feel disoriented and are unable to ‘tell time’. It is not only the physical weather patterns that can trick our brain, but living in a different time zone and noticing that the sun rises or sets at a different time. All these things affect our internal clock. They may not bother us much on a short vacation, but on a long term stay, they can disorient us. We also expect to experience certain weather during certain holidays. Take away the holiday, take away the weather, and one can feel completely disoriented.

People’s Behavior is NOT the Same
After living in one culture for any amount of time, we can predict people’s reactions and attitudes. Of course, there are always exceptions based on personality traits of particular individuals, but most of the time in our native environments we can make quick assessments of people based on various factors. We can assess trustworthiness based on someone’s facial expressions, tone of voice, or other attributes. When we live in a country where a different language is spoken, it becomes even more difficult because, the normal social cues that we acted on instinctively before is unavailable. We can become easily overwhelmed and physically and emotionally exhausted while re-learning to socialize abroad.

People Do NOT Speak the Same Language
DUH! Say the Americans! This is obvious in some cases, and not in others. In obvious cases, we may try to learn the ‘foreign language,’ but still find out that even after years of learning and becoming fluent, we may not be understood. Our attempts seem to be in vain. There may be many reasons for this. One I have come across as a coach is the fallacy that a language can be spoken as a translation language. For a language to be understood by the locals of that area, it must be spoken like a local in the way they speak it with the slangs, emotions (or lack there of), word choices, intonation, and other aspects of the local language. Culture also plays a big part in language. Without understanding the local culture, even with testing assessment (such as TOEFL or IELTS) fluency, locals may not be able to truly understand the second language learner. The other fallacy is that because they speak THE SAME language, I don’t need to adjust my language fluency to be understood. The most blatant example of this is English. English is spoken in so many countries, but it’s not actually the same English. Grammatically, it may be the same, but the practical usage is different. This would be the same case with other languages such as French, Spanish, Chinese, Tamil, Arabic and others that are spoken in multiple countries (or regions).

This is just a small sampling of differences people face when moving abroad. These differences affect lifestyle, thinking patterns, language usage, food habits, and daily living. With all these differences, it’s no wonder that people face culture shock even when the two countries that a person moves between appears to have similar cultures. If we know a little about what makes life different in different places, it can help us understand what life is like when our friends or families move abroad. We can be empathetic when they live away for a long time and ‘call a little late’ on a special holiday or call crying because they couldn’t eat their favorite foods for a long time, or complain of isolation due to not being able to talk to locals. Help your friends or family members when these factors seem problematic and the culture shock too intense. Try to help them overcome the culture shock. Be proactive.



Thank you for reading

Related Posts:
Common Questions in American English   

Speaking so Americans Relate and Understand  
How to pronounce the word country

Author Jennifer Kumar prepares international assignees and offshore teams for their move or short-term business trip to the U.S. in the U.S. culture training finishing school program.


Editor Chris Sufi is a freelance editor living in Bangalore, India.


Networked blogs link: http://nblo.gs/JY5cl  - http://networkedblogs.com/JY5cl

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